Thursday, September 20, 2018

Editorial: Hi-tech preparation

Editorial cartoon by John Gilbert V. Manantan

AS HURRICANE Florence approached the North Carolina coast in the United States yesterday afternoon, typhoon Ompong (international name Mangkhut) was already felt in some areas in Luzon. Ompong is stronger than Florence but unlike the Philippines, it is not often that the US is hit by a weather disturbance like Florence.

The manner we prepare for storms are well set; government and the people’s actions are mostly products of practice and of the lessons of past weather disturbances. In 2013, the bar was raised after Yolanda devastated Tacloban City and other provinces in the Visayas, including Cebu.

That is what makes observing how the US prepared for the entry of hurricane Florence interesting. What immediately jumped out there was the extensive use of technology and the wide scope of preparation because of the availability of resources in the country. The US, after all, is sophisticated and rich.

Consider that more than one million people living in coastal towns plotted to be in Florence’s path were told to evacuate. “You put your life at risk by staying. Don’t plan to leave once the winds and rains start,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

In Carolina Beach, note the scenario painted by Mayor Joe Benson for his island: the storm will batter the town through two high tide periods; storm surge of 13 feet on top of a high tide of seven feet could overwhelm the town. “Our sand dunes are healthy but they’re not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that,” he said. “Flooding is almost guaranteed.”

Observing this kind of preparation reminds one of the previous administration’s Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard). It extensively used science and technology for disaster risk reduction and management. Project NOAH predicted the devastating storm surge that hit Tacloban City although failure to use fully the available information in the preparation contributed to the big number of lives lost.

Instead of allowing the program to blossom, however, government shut it down, citing lack of funds. Now we are back to a disaster risk reduction management program that is low-tech and ill-funded.